Mar 16, 2022 - News

The push to rename Des Moines' George Flagg Parkway

A photo of George Flagg.
George Flagg. Photo courtesy of the city of Des Moines

Several Des Moines residents are calling on the city to rename George Flagg Parkway over concerns about the namesake's xenophobic stances and actions while serving on City Council, local civil rights advocate Kavya Parsa told Axios.

What's happening: Supporters of the renaming view a $72 million street plan unveiled last week, which includes a proposed realignment of the roadway, as an opportunity for current city leaders to "rectify its error," Parsa said.

Flashback: The longtime City Council member, who died in 2006, acknowledged to the Des Moines Register in 2001 that he for years voted against liquor licenses of retailers with "ethnic-sounding names," the Register wrote.

  • Flagg defended doing so because he couldn't be certain that the retailers were living in the country legally.
  • He also made racist and unfounded comments to the newspaper in October of 2001 connecting immigrants to murders in the city and across the country, citing the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as at least partially vindicating his beliefs.

That same year, Flagg voted against a city ordinance that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations.

  • His opposition didn't derail the ordinance or at least 137 liquor license permits that he voted against.
A newspaper clip from 2001.
Image: The Des Moines Register, Oct. 15, 2001

The big picture: A nationwide racial reckoning in the wake of 2020 protests against police violence renewed calls across the country to remove Confederate symbols and scrub the names of racist figures from public places.

The backstory: Des Moines' City Council named the roadway, previously known as Valley Drive, after Flagg in December of 2001 to memorialize his 20 years of city service.

  • Council members initially waived a public meeting process linked with renaming streets so the reveal would be a surprise to Flagg during his last meeting before retiring.
  • It was approved despite opposition from businesses along the roadway.

What they're saying: Mayor Frank Cownie, the longest-serving council member who was elected to Flagg's seat, told Axios this week that he wasn't aware of Flagg's history with the liquor licenses.

  • Councilmember Josh Mandelbaum, who represents Ward 3 where the parkway is located, and at-large Councilpersons Connie Boesen and Carl Voss all echoed Cownie's statement.
  • They said they would consider renaming the street if citizens petition the council.

Of note: Flagg's son, Jeff Flagg, told Axios Tuesday that his family wants the parkway to retain his father's name.

  • He said voters didn't generally view his father as xenophobic as evident in his father's successful re-election bids.

What's next: Parsa is directing name-change supporters to the Des Moines People's Townhall.

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